WILLIAMSPORT — State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors will host a public forum, “State of Addiction,” at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, at UPMC Susquehanna, Williamsport.
The forum will address the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic at the local, state and federal levels.
Yaw, who chairs the board, noted the event will feature the state’s physician general, Dr. Rachel Levine; area judges and board members Rep. Garth Everett (R-84), Dr. Nancy Falvo, of Clarion University; Dr. Michael Driscoll, president of Indiana University of Pa. and Dr. Timothy Kelsey, Penn State University professor. Others, including the state’s attorney general, could appear based on availability.
The forum will focus on where Pennsylvania is three years after the first hearing hosted by Yaw and the center was held in Williamsport.
“In 2014, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania held its first public hearing on the heroin and opioid crisis affecting the commonwealth,” Yaw said. “That hearing, also held in Williamsport, was followed by 11 additional public hearings over the next two years, resulting in more than 70 hours of presentations from more than 150 professionals, family members and people in recovery. The hearings created statewide awareness supporting and resulting in numerous legislative and administrative initiatives to combat a disease that now claims more lives each year than those lost to traffic accidents.
“We wanted to get some of the same people back to do a presentation,” he continued. “The whole idea is to get people to come back so that we can find out where we are today. Are we any better? Are we making progress?”
The goal of the center was initially to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic, and Yaw feels that has been accomplished. Addressing the myriad issues surrounding the epidemic is far more complex.
“The only way we’re going to address the problem is through community effort,” he said. “We can’t do something on a temporary basis.”
Yaw explained in blunt terms the impact the epidemic is having in rural — and urban — communities across the nation.
“One of the things that frustrates me most is perception,” he said. “Fifty-nine people were killed in Las Vegas. No question (the mass shooting) was a useless tragedy. Well, there are 150 people that die every day in the United States from a drug overdose. Do we have the same level of media coverage? No. That’s 150 people yesterday, and 150 people today.”
Progress has been made in Harrisburg, too, with the implementation of the Good Samaritan Law and laws impacting treatments for minors. More can be done, though.
“I liken in to putting together a rope,” said Yaw. “No one thing is going to solve the problem. Every little strand we put together helps. We’ll have a rope that will mean something and address the problem.”
The public forum will be held in the Walnut Conference Center at UPMC Susquehanna, 700 High St. More information can be found at www.senatorgeneyaw.com.